Rick Scott Vetos Immigrant Drivers License Bill, Despite Support

The bill received near-unanimous support from lawmakers, but that wasn't enough.

ByABC News
June 5, 2013, 10:54 AM

June 5, 2013 — -- Recently, Florida's Republican-controlled legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have allowed many young undocumented immigrants to apply for temporary driver's licenses.

That bill would have become law if it wasn't for Gov. Rick Scott (R).

Scott on Tuesday vetoed the legislation, which would have allowed beneficiaries of President Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to seek driver's licenses. Scott said his decision was rooted in his belief that DACA violates federal law.

"Although the Legislature may have been well intentioned in seeking to expedite the process to obtain a temporary driver license, it should not have been done by relying on a federal government policy adopted without legal basis," he said his veto message.

The measure would have added an approved deferred action application to the list of materials that people seeking driver's licenses can use to prove their identity, according to The Miami Herald. The state House passed the bill 115-2 and the state Senate voted 36-0 to send it to Scott's desk.

More than 291,000 DACA applications have been approved nationwide, according to the federal government. And an estimated one million undocumented immigrants of all ages reside in Florida. Immigrant-rights activists have urged state governments across the country to grant driver's licenses to DACA recipients, saying they are necessary to get to and from work and school.

Already, many DACA recipients in Florida are eligible to receive temporary driver's licenses under a provision in Florida law that allows non citizens with federal work permits to apply. DACA recipients can also obtain work permits, but approval of work permits sometimes does not coincide with approval for deferred action.

That makes Scott's decision even more curious. His veto does not represent a sweeping policy change, but it did open himself up to attacks from Hispanic Democrats, who say that he's simply looking to crack down on immigrants.

[It was] "simply unconscionable." Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, who sponsored the bill in the Senate, told the Herald. "It's a political anti-Hispanic move. He missed an opportunity."

Scott's decision is being interpreted as a move to placate conservatives, who tend to take a hard line on immigration, before his tough reelection campaign next year.

"Until now, his enforcement record has been a sham compared to his campaign promises," Dave Caulkett, vice president of Floridians for Immigration Enforcement, told National Journal. "We're very pleased that he's realized that the students are not residing legally despite President Obama's declaration to the contrary, and we appreciate the governor's action."

Still that leaves the question of how easily Scott can expand his voter base beyond conservatives. Florida's Latinos voters, which include a sizable Cuban-American population, have proved to be a swing coalition in past elections. But in 2012, Florida Latinos swung heavily toward Obama 60-39 percent, according to exit polls. Democrats consistently hammered Obama's GOP opponent Mitt Romney as too tough on immigration.

The governor already suffers from low approval ratings from all types of voters and his latest decision could make it even tougher to win over Latino voters come next year.